The red centre has long been a uniquely Australian paradox – literally at the heart of Australia, it’s an absolute enigma to most of us. In preparation for my visit I read Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice only to discover that it has very little indeed to do with Alice Springs itself, which seems ironically appropriate.
For those who aren’t driving up from Adelaide, the most economical option is probably to fly into Alice and rent a campervan there from one of the numerous operators. There’s a fair bit to see and do in Alice proper – tourism is the major industry in the area, and museums, cultural centres and gift shops are thick throughout the city centre; even just wandering up the dry bed of the Todd River can take up an afternoon. Be forewarned that prices are much higher out here, and petrol can reach almost double what you’d expect to see on the east coast.
The main attraction, of course, is driving the Stuart and Lasseter Highways. Restricting yourself to 80k an hour will save a lot of money on fuel and prolong your trip, which is one of those campervanning dreams. The neverending road unspools in front of you, the green scrub and oxidised red sand stretches out on either side and all above is that big sky they talk about. Make sure to pack the Midnight Oil (the lead singer of which later became our Federal Environment Minister) or just enjoy the view in silence.
Plan your stops before you go – while there are a few overnighters both marked and unmarked, you’ll want to stay at a roadhouse at least once. Several punctuate the Stuart Highway at intervals of a couple of hundred k’s, and they’re self-contained campgrounds-cum-petrol stations, often with a bar and a café on-site. Great places to meet up with travellers around a fire, and due to the nature of the route you’ll get to know a couple of people going in the same direction.
The Uluru National Park is, of course, your destination – but it’s an experience deserving of its own singular attention, and I won’t do it disservice by talking about it here. I will say that it’s definitely worth the drive.
For the campervanners-at-heart, though, those 450ks from Alice are their own reward. Also check out our destination guide to the Red Centre here.